Reduce Chrome memory usage on the Mac to speed up the browser

Chrome is a great web browser, but it can be a real memory hog if it is not configured correctly. This can slow down the browser and slow down the Apple Mac. Here’s how to speed it both the browser and Mac.

If you have a brand new MacBook Pro with 16B of RAM and a solid state disk, this article is not for you. You have lots of memory in which Chrome can expand and when the memory is full, the SSD can be used almost as quickly.

The trouble is that not everyone has a top-end Mac that is maxed out with memory and has a super fast SSD.

There are a lot of older MacBooks with limited memory, many with old style spinning platter mechanical disk drives, and CPUs that are several generations behind the current technology.

If you are struggling with an older Mac, then optimising apps and macOS to run as fast as possible is an important consideration. Chrome can easily become bloated and when you have just 4GB of memory and a mechanical disk drive, the Mac can slow to a crawl if you then open other apps that also require lots of memory.

Use Chrome Task Manager

There is a great tool in Chrome called Task Manager and it is the equivalent of Activity Monitor in macOS. It tells you what is running and how much memory it is using.

Click the Chrome menu button and select More tools, Task manager.

To make both Chrome and macOS run faster and smoother, we need to reduce the number of items in this list. This will free up memory and reduce the CPU usage. There will always be some items in the list, but not everything in Task Manager is essential and you can live without some things, with the resulting benefit of less memory and CPU used.

Chrome Task Manager showing CPU and memory usage for the web browser
Chrome has improved memory usage. It used to be worse than this!

Stop Chrome syncing everything

Many people work on more than one computer and if they don’t all have the same specification, different Chrome settings might be best for each one.

What is good for your main Mac or PC with 16GB of memory might not be good on your second Mac or PC with only 4GB of memory. Chrome will sync settings if you let it and it is best to stop it and to configure the browser separately on each computer.

Click the menu button and then select Settings.

In the Sign in section at the top, click the Advanced sync settings button.

Select Choose what to sync in the menu at the top, then clear the ticks against anything that might affect the speed of memory usage of Chrome. For example, clear Apps, Extensions, Settings, and Themes.

The remaining items do not affect the memory or speed and so they can be synced.

Choose what attributes and items to sync with Chrome browser

Stop the GPU process

If you look back at the first screenshot showing Task Manager, there is an item called GPU Process. It is using 76MB in the screenshot, but the amount of memory used varies and it can climb to 100MB.

Now 100MB on its own is not much, but all the small savings added together make a big saving.

The GPU Process is designed to speed up certain web content, but it is an option and not a necessity. Prevent it from being used and the Mac will have more memory.

Click the menu button and select Settings.

Scroll down to the bottom and click Show advanced settings.

Scroll down to the bottom again and clear the tick against Use hardware acceleration when available.

Restart Chrome and open Task Manager. The GPC Process that was using up memory and CPU time has gone.

Turn off 'Use hardware acceleration when available.

Disable extensions

Extensions are one of the best features of Chrome and there are some fantastic ones. They add very useful tools and features to the browser and some people have 10 or even 20 installed.

Although they are useful, are they essential? On a Mac with 16GB of RAM, a Core i7 CPU and SSD, you can load up all the extensions you want and Chrome will be fine.

However, on an old Mac with a Core i3, 4GB of memory and a mechanical disk drive, they are deadly and kill the performance.

The memory and the CPU usage of extensions can be seen in the Task Manager window. The usage varies over time and from extension to extensions. A few are small a lightweight, but some require 50 or even 100MB.

The extensions you have installed in Chrome could well be adding half a gigabyte to the memory usage, which means there is less available for running other apps on your Mac. Extensions may be convenient, but they can slow down the Mac.

Disable all non-essential extensions in Chrome to reduce the memory usage

Click the menu button and select More tools, Extensions.

Clear the Enable checkbox next to any extension you can live without. This disables them and it does not delete them. You can always return and switch them back on if you need them.

The only one I keep permanently enabled is my password manager. Everything else is disabled unless I am actually using it.

User fewer tabs

Opening new pages or sites in tabs uses a huge amount of memory. Pages can use up to 150MB each and so 10 tabs in Chrome could use up to 1.5GB of memory.

Tabs are incredibly useful and you might not want to completely do without them. Just try to use the minimum number and don’t open dozens if you can avoid it.








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